Saturday, June 26, 2010

The Personal Strength of Self-Esteem - The Year of the Damages

In 1998 Kathleen and I moved to Vero Beach, Florida. Vero Beach is located on the Atlantic coast midway between Miami and Jacksonville, quite a ways from the out-of-control urban-suburban grid. In the summer it was so quiet you could have a picnic lunch on the street in front of our house. A city ordinance prohibits any structures taller than six stories. The flora and fauna from both the subtropical and temperate zones thrive there. We lived on a barrier island next to a park that sprawled adjacent to the Intra-coastal Waterway. The Atlantic Ocean was four blocks to the east. A great egret shopped for lizards in our bushes every day. Over sixty other species of birds visited our yard regularly. During the eight years we lived there, the temperature never rose above 94 F nor did it fall below 32 F. Not once at any time of day. In other words, we had no winter. It was, as I regularly proclaimed, paradise.

Until the hurricanes of 2004 came. Frances, a slow-moving Category 2 storm hit us dead on. It pushed ocean water up to within one inch of our front door and knocked down a 100-year old oak tree, changing the landscape of our front yard. We were without power for almost two weeks. Four days after we got power back, we were hit again by Jeanne, a fast-moving Category 3 that pushed the water up to our front door again. After that one we needed a new roof. Once again, we were without power for almost two weeks. The hotels on the beach were destroyed, as were several homes of our friends. 

One of the clean-up tasks we faced was to get rid of the three-foot diameter oak stump in our front yard. How do you do that? You have to grind it down to sawdust. That is, the two rough-looking guys we hired had to do it. They brought in this massive grinding machine and went to work.

Fascinated by this strange equipment, I watched them as they worked the project. But what stays in my memory was how the boss treated his assistant, who happened to be his younger brother. 

"What the hell is wrong with you, Bubba? Do I have to tell you three times what you should already know by heart? I need every one of them adapters laid out so I can use 'em when I need 'em. Where are they? Christ, never mind, I'll go get 'em myself."

It was like that the whole two hours they were there. The big brother never let up. He verbally abused his little brother every time he opened his mouth. Bubba was about 35 years old, and you could see 35 years of hurt on his face. You could tell he craved his brother's approval, but he had no idea how to get it. I imagined the permanent damage to his self-esteem.

I'm sure that at this point Bubba was so psychologically weakened that he couldn't imagine succeeding at anything except being the hapless but always present assistant to his brother. It was an extreme example of the damage people can do to each other in a close relationship. A mother to a daughter. A husband to a wife. A boss to an employee. It's an old story.

Years later the victim might struggle to recover. Most can't do it. Which is a tragedy, because strong self-esteem is essential if a person wants to tackle the challenges of a career or an intimate relationship.

I'm just going to say this. A lot of this kind of verbal abuse goes on in a very low-key way. People don't realize the harm they're doing, but all of it is damaging. Think real hard about how you treat the people close to you. If you love them, then express that love in looks and touches and words and acts of tenderness. Knock off the oneupmanship, put-downs and criticism. In a moment of frustration you might imply something mildly sarcastic and do more damage than you'll ever know. No one is immune. Not even big burly guys like Bubba.
Post by Dennis E. Coates, Ph.D., Copyright 2010. Building Personal Strength . (Permission to use photo purchased from


Jessica said...

Thank you Dennis, this post tells a story and teaches a lesson. Excellent approach to the subject. Most people don't understand about verbal abuse. Some don't know when they are issuing it and others don't recognize when they're enduring it. This topic could be expanded into lots of posts!

Anonymous said...

I have seen rejection used the same way.

BigExpert said...

Great article.

Thank you!

Anonymous said...

Good to remind oneself to be more careful with others. Easy to get caught up in your own stuff and pass it on to another.